Review – Photoshop World Conference & Expo, Las Vegas, Nevada - Reboot, Recharge and Reinvent Yourself

If you're thinking of traveling to Las Vegas simply to spend your money on life's pleasures, consider instead making the trip to increase your knowledge of Photoshop, digital photography, and perhaps your income as well. How's that possible? Rather than spending hours at the casino tables and bars, make the trip to Vegas to find new ideas and inspiration at the National Association of Photoshop Professional's annual Photoshop World conference held each September at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. The annual gathering is billed by N.A.P.P. as "The Must Attend Conference for Photographers and Photoshop Users."

Scott Kelby, founder, editor, and PSW ringmaster of N.A.P.P. and Photoshop User magazine, put it simply at last year's PSW: "I know for all of us that this is a tough time  -  but it's great to come here to step out of yourself and learn new things." We found that sentiment rang true during the 2010 conference.

How the Conference Runs


The conference structure is based on a three-day set of sessions, with an optional selection of special seminars the day before the conference begins if you want to gain hands-on knowledge. The sessions range from intro-level to advanced seriously geeky offerings. There are a slew of "tracks" emphasizing different concerns, such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Interested in weddings? There is a track for that! Because the tracks all happen simultaneously, you can opt to bounce from track to track, session to session as we did. We found this to be an easy way to pursue specific answers, or just pop in to a session that piqued our curiosity. You are given a workbook the size of a large telephone yellow pages, so that you can follow along with the instructors examples, including download links for resources.

Standing Room Only at Digital Pre-Press Sessions?

Our Mac Edition Radio editor recommended that we check out the standing room only Dan Margulis sessions on digital pre-press, which he said demonstrated the diversity of attendees, and which always amazed him due to the highly specialized nature of those sessions. Aimed at printing professionals, these sessions are intense, popular, and he was right, they were almost always standing room only. We found the same for Bert Monroy's sessions on digital painting and illustration. Sure enough, they were filled to the gills, as were all the sessions we visited. Judging by the variety of courses offered, we felt that whether you are a seasoned professional or a newbie, techie or not, PSW is a venue where graphic designers, photographers and digital artists can expect to learn cutting-edge skills and have fun doing it. As Harris' photograph of instructor R.C. Concepion with a young Photoshop guru shows, it's also a family friendly affair.

The Expo 

Running simultaneously with the conference is the expo, a trade show featuring sponsors of the conference,with opportunities to discover the latest in products and technology and meet one-on-one with representatives from vendors such as Adobe, NIK software, Wacom, leading camera companies, or the stars of Kelby Training, Photoshop Cafe, and Software Cinema, and many, many more. How often do you get to meet with the actual product manager of a major application? If anyone can answer your question, they can! Personally we felt that the trade show alone is worth the price of admission! 

It's the Economy!

This year in particular, when more creative people are being laid off due to a tanking economy, it makes sense to focus your time and energy (not to mention the money you're bound to lose playing slots or blackjack) increasing your knowledge and boosting your creative skills. Conferences and seminars such as Photoshop World are a great way to do that. It's a quick, intense, and fun (as we discovered) way to increase your marketability, although we should note that many of the attendees we spoke to weren't there for financial reasons, but for the sheer joy of learning and understanding new techniques and being on the cutting edge.

In an economic environment that's double-parked in the doldrums, being part of the dynamic Photoshop World experience will definitely recharge your creative batteries. High-energy workshops and the chance to mix and mingle with some of the nation's leading photo artists will reboot your photo fundamentals and help you garner new techniques to enhance your portfolio and resume. The days are long, from early morning sessions to the Midnight Madness session full of fun, games, and prizes, combined with some pretty cool Photoshop tricks! You don't find many attendees ducking out of the session to party. This conference is taken seriously, and folks don't want to miss out on anything opportunities for learning.

Why Do People Attend the Conference?

We wondered what drove so many folks to come to Las Vegas and listen to Deke McClelland describe channels in ways you never even thought existed. Here are a few "real-life" stories shared by attendees we met at last year's PSW Vegas. If they sound a bit like testimonials, it's because in a sense they are. Many of the attendees sport ribbons indicating how many times they have attended, so you quickly knew the commitment level and enthusiasm present. Most of the folks we talked to were there to gain a business advantage, but as we mentioned many others were there for a wide-variety of reasons.

Dorothy from Cedar Rapids, IA, is a vibrant, recently widowed woman in her late 40s who recently decided to start her own photo restoration business. After a few sessions at PSW Vegas, she knew that after this (life-changing is how she described it) experience she'd be launching her new business on a solid foundation.

Chan from Marina del Rey, CA, graduated with top honors from an art college but realized when he began pounding the pavements in Los Angeles that he needed real-world professional skills to land a lucrative job. He felt that the energy and atmosphere at PSW in Las Vegas helped him to not only master some solid skills from the best in the business but he also gave him the chance to network with industry insiders.

Brent from San Diego, CA, has run his own business as a wedding photographer for the past 10 years. To increase his business at a time when the competition is becoming stiffer, he realized he needed to add more "wow" factor to his portfolio. He felt that he came away from PSW with innovative techniques to capture gorgeous shots of any couple on their wedding day, and drive in more sales.

Barbara and Richard from Portland, OR, have made a decent living as graphic designers and illustrators but their assignments have diminished as the economic noose has tightened their clients' purse strings. This duo felt that the new techniques they learned at PSW in Vegas last year have helped them to open the doors to re-inventing their business and, as a result, significantly boosting their profit margin.

Should you attend PSW? 

If you are wondering if PSW is worth it for you, in our opinion, after seeing the energy, quality of instruction, and organizational finesse, we have no reservations recommending PSW. It is held twice a year, Las Vegas in the fall, and Florida in the spring. With the competition for hotel rooms you can often get very affordable rates with a little bit of advance planning. If you are a student they have special rates, and even scholarships if your instructor nominates you.

To be honest, there are lots of conferences and seminars for photography and digital imaging, and we were curious to see what set PSW apart. After experiencing it, we feel It's a safe bet that by rolling the dice (ok, one last bad Las Vegas pun!) and attending Photoshop World in Las Vegas this September, you can come away with the skills you need to reinforce your creative vision.

This year's Photoshop World Conference & Expo will be run from September 7-9, 2011, at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Ron & Jane Cooper, with additional reporting by Harris Fogel, posted 8/15/2011 

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